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Nun-turned-artist-turned-pioneer: the stunning story of Corita Kent

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new exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft celebrates the life and work of Corita Kent, the woman who shook up the the Catholic church and the art world with bold graphics and controversial views.

Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching in and then heading up the art department at Immaculate Heart College.

Corita showed an early proclivity for art and her father encouraged her to develop it. As a young artist, Corita was influenced by medieval art she was studying. She was also very interested in the contemporary art of her time. Her early work shows some abstract expressionist influence and then she was certainly influenced by the Pop art movement that developed in Los Angeles in the early 1960s.

Throughout the ‘60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and injustice. In 1968 she left the order and moved to Boston.

After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until her death in 1986.

At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.

A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, her vibrant screenprinted banners and posters drew on pop and modern consumer cultures and became increasingly political throughout the decade.

Her bright, bold work confronted issues of poverty, racism and war with an aesthetic more aligned with protest movements of the time than traditional religious imagery.

Frequently appearing on the streets surrounding the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she taught, Kent’s imagery aimed to capture the public imagination in order to influence social change.

Her work evolved from figurative and religious to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature.

The ground-breaking work of Corita Kent (1918-1986) comes to Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft this summer as part of the Brighton Festival programme throughout May and beyond.